The end of the “controlled” democracy
Akezhan Kazhegeldin: “Our elite is too timid with respect to
According to the established tradition, on the eve of a New Year one
sums up the past year and make predictions for the year to come. To certain extent, this
interview with former Kazakh prime minister Akezhan KAZHEGELDIN is a summarizing one: our
interlocutor sums up and evaluates what happened to him and to Kazakhstan almost a decade
ago. At the same time, he attempts to make a forecast for the future as he urges his
“comrades-in-arms” not to let things slide in the intensively developing political
process in Kazakhstan. Being away from home, one is clearly unable to evaluate the
happenings inside Kazakhstan at first hand. However, not for nothing they say that with
distance comes perspective…
So, how the Kazakh events are seen from the far away where opposition
member No. 1 lives today?
Akezhan Magzhanovich, Kazakh officials love to say that all
prominent opposition members have become Nazarbayev's opponents only because they were
ousted from office or they had no prospects there... You were the first to leave. Tell me
- First, I would like to comment a bit on the way the question is
formulated. When one asks to “tell frankly”, it's implied that on other occasions the
interlocutor speaks “not frankly”. Why? When one says that “all opposition members
have become opponents because they were ousted out” and so on, the question arises: who
thinks so? Is it your editorial office, your publishers or readers? I hope, not. Perhaps,
it is the honest and patriotically minded citizens of Kazakhstan? I am positive they think
Only scoundrels, dreaming of top government posts in order to cling to
them indefinitely, are able to suspect profit motives in the actions of government
officials who have left their high-ranking posts to join the opposition to find themselves
in jail or exiled. All those who once led the government, parliament or were governors and
ministers know the price of power. We know what needs to be done for our state, how to
change the life of the people for the better. And we see quite well why those efforts
prove fruitless under the current political regime.
Back in 1997, I faced a challenge: whether to close my eyes to the
system of stealing oil revenues being established under Games Giffen's supervision or to
speak out in protest. I opted for the second and suggested that Nazarbayev choose between
Giffen and me. He chose Giffen. Later, Nazarbayev complained he had made a mistake.
Couldn't you, like Tereshchenko, just quietly do your business
instead? Or to “sit it out” like Tasmagambetov did? Perhaps, in a couple of years you
could have been “be in the saddle” again?
- “To be a saddle” is a relative notion. I don't feel like
“quietly doing my business” either. To say nothing of “sitting out.” After my
resignation, I wrote critical articles and two books: “The Right to Choose” and
“Opposition to the Dark Ages”, developed draft changes to the Constitution and the
Election Law, fought for my right to participate in the 1999 presidential and
parliamentary elections, set up the Republican People's Party and the Forum of Democratic
Forces, and represented Kazakh democratic movement in many renowned international
institutions and groups... Let's our readers decide for themselves whether I should I envy
the fate of Tereshchenko or Tasmagambetov or not.
As to the chance to hold the office of prime minister once again, there
were such opportunities. Once, Games Giffen offered this post to me in writing. Imagine
the way things stood in Kazakhstan if a foreign swindler offers the position of prime
minister on behalf of the President! The original of Giffen's letter with this “indecent
proposal” will appear in the Kazakhgate trial.
SUPERCOVER FOR INVESTORS
Your name and the name of Nazarbayev are linked to the
privatization. How could it happen that the President's relatives and close to him
investors got hold of the tidbits?
- According to your logic, if my and the President's names are linked
to the privatization alike, much of the “tidbits” must have ended up in the hands of
my relatives or investors close to me. None of my relatives are among those who have
privatized a thing in Kazakhstan. Similarly, one could hardly name such investors. I
haven't got an apartment in Kazakhstan, to say nothing of a company or a house.
Speaking not about me but about current situation in the Kazakh
economy, there are two reasons for all what has happened. First, it has happened because
of refusing the system of open tenders and investment contests under the control of
respectable international legal firms. Adviser Games Giffen sought to indispose Nazarbayev
against such contests, while our cabinet sought to conduct them instead.
The second reason is the refusal to develop stock market and attract
pension funds to it. Our cabinet saw it as a tool to nurture a strong national investor
able to control copper, zinc, and aluminum industries. But one is unable to tell the stock
market to pay 10-20% to President's personal accounts or to make scores of stockholders
raise funds for his secret election fund.
However, this aim could be easily achieved if you deal with shady
semi-foreign investors. They are ready to pay “kickbacks” to any officials as they
realize that their assets are insecure and illegal. They need many patrons in the person
of heads of regional administrations, ministers, premiers, the President and his
Mashkevich had emerged in Kazakhstan before you become prime
minister. However, you have surely met with him, haven't you? Could you evaluate the role
he plays under the Nazarbayev regime?
- Sure, I know Alexander Mashkevich and his partners in the Eurasia
Group. When I held office, they were managers, while real masters of the funds were behind
them. There must be a National Security Committee's note left in achieves of the state
privatization committee detailing the sources of capital. Later, there emerged a conflict
among them, and the Kazakh Supreme Court supported Mashkevich, Shodiev, and Ibragimov.
I closely follow the Respublika's publications on the Eurasia
Group. You appear to realize quite well Alexander Antonovich's role among Nursultan
Abishevich's allies. As the Germans say, “madchen fur alles”. It stands for “a girl
for any occasion” who helps in the entire house. It's very convenient to have such a
help, especially as the help pays for the host's whims, like setting up a party or
sponsoring a holiday trip...
In 1997, our government managed to have balance sheets published of all
the companies with a government share. In one of such companies, part of the Eurasia
Group, a $200 mln. imbalance was detected. This sparked a crisis, the company's owners
turned to the President for help, and the latter actively intervened... So, it became
clear who was the “silent co-owner” of the concern in question.
Subsequently, the Eurasia Group has continued to secretly receive
state-run assets without any tenders guaranteed only by the group's promises of new
investments... New Kazakh leaders would have to untie this knot. In doing so, it would be
crucial not only to respect the law, but also to assert the Kazakh national business
Recently, members of the Eurasia Group have promised the President that
they hush up the Kazakhgate investigation through their ethnic contacts in the U.S. They
have tried to do so, but to no avail. Unlike Kazakhstan, western justice is independent,
and no one among serious people would run the risk of standing trial for obstructing
At the same time, one should not overestimate the influence of
Mashevich or any other oligarchs on Nazarbayev. The President is by no means a puppet. He
uses his “tame” investors at his own discretion. He participates in their business, on
the one hand, as a secret partner, and as a super-cover, on the other hand. Nazarbayev's
influence on such “investors” stems from the insecurity of their assets in Kazakhstan:
there were no tenders held or contracts published, and their balances are shady... These
are ideal conditions for racketeering and corruption.
Judging by publications in the press, interest to the Eurasia Group
leaders has been growing. Belgian, Swiss, and British authorities have been investigating
the matter. If your readers take interest, the Respublika should send there
reporters to meet with their colleagues and exchange information.
Many believe that it were Tasmagambetov and Mashkevich, not the Otan
and AIST parties, who won recent parliamentary elections. Do you agree with it?
- Internationally, not only robbery is considered a crime, but also
dealing in and making use of stolen property. Millions of votes have been stolen, and
Otan, AIST and Asar deputies use them illegally. Mashkevich, Tasmagambetov, Baliyeva and
Nazarbayev may regard this a victory, but the saying “success is never blamed” does
not work here. Victors are judged. Just look at their colleagues in Serbia, Ukraine or
Zharmakhan Tuyakbay was reluctant to use stolen votes and refused his
seat. As a lawyer, he sees the future of this parliament better that anyone else.
However, the importance of the recent election to Majilis is paramount.
I say this without any irony at all. The election has drawn a line under the era of the
“controlled democracy.” From now on, this road would lead to nowhere. Perhaps, if one
just rank the President's guardsmen, order them to number in turn and appoint first 77
guardsmen Majilis deputues.
As a result, the society hasn't recognized the parliament as
legitimate. In case of a potential crisis during the presidential elections the
parliament's decisions would be revoked by direct declaration of popular will. In the
first place, it concerns any changes to the Constitution or attempts to elect the
President by the parliament. Any cooperative has more powers to take decisions that the
NOT JUST A HANDY MAN...
You must know James Giffen very well as you have participated in
selling out oil fields. Do you believe that he really is a CIA agent? Or he is just a
middleman, while Nazarbayev is responsible for all uncovered in the Kazakhgate trial?
- The question is put is a dubious manner. Just imagine someone asks
you: “You must have known well the circumstances accompanying the arson attack on the
Respublika editorial office as you set it on fire”... However, the essence of the
question deserves a serious talk.
In 1995-97, licenses to produce oil were granted exclusively through
investment tenders overseen by international legal companies. The contracts investigated
in the Kazakhgate trial, first of all regarding the Tengiz, Kashagan, and Karachaganak
fields and the Caspian Pipeline Consortium, were reached by the President prior or after
my term in office as prime minister. In all the cases, Nurlan Balgimbayev knows about them
as much as Nazarbayev does.
By that time, Giffen had already met with Nazarbayev?
- James Giffen made friends with Nazarbayev in the Soviet-era times.
Their relationship appear to be far from being terminated, judging by the way the
President stands up for the defendant. Nazarbayev has confided recently to me that those
“friendship” and “business” were a huge mistake though.
Our government literally clashed with James Giffen's “activities”.
Those clashes occurred one after another. In 1996-97, when preparing privatization
decisions on Mangystaumunaigaz, Yuzhneftegaz, Aktobemunaigaz and other oilfields, we
declined Mercator's proposals basing on the assessments made by international experts.
There exist minutes of the cabinet sessions, as well as recommendations of the
interdepartmental privatization commission.
Giffen as a phenomenon is dangerous not because of his avarice. This is
quite typical for businessmen who set off to the “third world” states in quest of
happiness. They do not produce or invest anything, they just specialize in “services”
to beginner rulers. I presume, Giffen has corrupted Nazarbayev by promising him absolute
confidentiality and impunity.
At a certain moment, James Giffen imagined himself not a handy man, but
the authority itself. He corrupted scores of officials among the Nazarbayev entourage,
engaged force departments to fight international advisers to the government. In 1997-98,
tax police with personal participation of Rakhat Aliev together with the investigative
committee conducted searches and arrests in the offices of western legal firms in Almaty.
As a result, they all withdrew from there. Giffen was the only left and enjoyed broad
powers. To find support with the President administration, General Prosecutor's Office and
other government bodies was exceptionally easy for him.
The idea to set up Kazakhoil company instead of the oil and gas
ministry and to liquidate the geology ministry belongs to James Giffen. He sought to take
the industry from under government's control, and Nazarbayev let his friend and adviser
push him around.
And what is your personal position?
- I did not want to “preside over” misappropriation of national
resources. I told Nazarbayev about that when I tendered my resignation. I hoped that my
resignation would help bring the President to reason and give him an impetus to wake up. I
know Giffen personally and can assure you that he has done nothing useful to our state,
but inflicted great damage instead. All the talk that he has brought
investors tо Kazakhstan is sheer nonsense. Other states across the globe produce oil
without Giffen and succeed in this just as well. There have been scores of those willing
to invest in Kazakhstan.
Representatives of leading oil companies visited our waiting rooms.
Giffen's avidity scared off many of them. Those who agreed to play by his rules, found
themselves on trial or behind the bars because of him. His partner Brian Williams, vice
president of Mobil, was sentenced to almost five years in jail. The turn of other manages
involved in the bribery will come after the New York trial is over.
And still, was Giffen a CIA agent?
- This will come to light very soon. The U.S. Justice Department does
not deny the fact that he delivered secret information from Nazarbayev’s desk to the
U.S. government. Was he authorized to make Nazarbayev follow a certain political line,
that is an interesting question.
WHOM DID HE BRIBE?
It is rumored that the money from the sale of Kazakh companies’
shares and assets was transferred to government’s secret accounts that had existed
before Kazakhstan sold a 25% share in TengizChevroil to Mobil. It is also said that there
is your signature on the secret government’s resolutions. Is thas true?
-My information differs with yours. When I was a prime minister, the
government didn’t open any secret accounts to accumulate proceeds from selling Kazakh
shares and assets. The money for the state share from the deal with Mobil was transferred
to the official account of the Republic of Kazakhstan Treasury. The matter is that the
amount that arrived to this account was significantly less than that under the contract.
However, this was uncovered only during the investigation into the “Kazakhgate”.
No secret resolutions were ever taken during my term in office. Please
note that even Imangali Tasmagambetov didn’t manage to mention the Kazhegeldin cabinet
in his story about how heroically Nazarbayev had been hiding money in his private accounts
in Credit Agricol Indosuez. Government’s accounts were opened to collect money from the
commercial activity of state bodies, and spending this money was permitted exclusively for
the national needs which was meticulously recorder in official documents. This is easy to
check even if the government archives were destroyed during the move to Astana. It is a
bureaucratic rule of thumb that the copies do not burn.
And those accounts have never been opened in Credit Agricol Indosuez.
They were liquidated in full compliance with the law. The moneys went to the budget
You are familiar with many secrets of power. It is rumored that the
$0.75 that Giffen get from every ton of Tengiz oil goes to secret foreign accounts. Is
- I have got no reliable information on this issue. For the first time,
I saw Kazakhstan’s contract with Chevron in 2003. The reporters showed it to me in
America. Our government has not seen the document. I can give a copy to Kazakh journalists
and politicians who are willing to study the case. It looks like Giffen was giving a major
part of his commission for Tengiz to someone. Otherwise his assets would be much higher.
The transactions have not been traced yet at the Swiss banks where main accounts of the
Kazakhgate accomplices were seized. The court may judge to forfeiture Giffen’s property.
Then we will see.
Will you participate in the Kazakhgate trial and in which capacity
– as a witness or an observer?
- Participation in the trial is my civil duty as an opposition
politician and a top government official. I don’t know whether the U.S. court will need
my testimony. In any case I will insist that the money seized on the accounts of Giffen,
Nazarbayev, Balgimbayev and their families be returned to Kazakhstan.
It is a question still in which form this should be accomplished. I
suggest that opposition leaders develop a procedure for the U.S. and Swiss governments to
transfer the huge sums to be used to the good of the nation and to prevent them from
getting back to the same people on the top. This is the subject to be discussed with U.S.
congressmen, Swiss MPs, lawyers, international organizations fighting against government
Our elite’s attitude towards Kazakhgate is rather timid. The scandal
has been developing for several years, and nothing has been done yet to get the money back
to the country. I think, a national public commission on this matter should be
established. I would suggest that Zamanbek Nurkandilov be its chair. With his courage and
openness he has gained confidence of the nation and no one would say he plays up to
Nazarbayev and helps him to shirk responsibility.
THERE WILL BE NO SUCCESSOR
It is rumored that Nazarbayev has constantly been sending his agents
to you proposing to come to an agreement. Among them Rakhat Aliev, Dariga Nazarbayeva,
Bulat Utermuratov, Nurtay Abykayev and others are named. Have any meetings taken place?
- Yes, there are such rumors. One rumor is spread by the Respublika:
that I had a meeting with Rakhat Aliev in Vienna. Maybe, Aliev himself told you about
this? Please don’t believe him. As a presidential representative he came to visit me in
London, as far as I remember, in 2001. He represents nobody today. We would have had
nothing to discuss. He and his spouse have to take care of their own future. By the way,
Dariga Nazarbayeva also came to London. A group of British MPs acted as intermediaries
then. I have had other contacts, at a much more serious level.
What did you suggest?
- I think, it is more interesting what I suggested to them rather than
what they were suggesting. Invariably, for any agreement with the authority, I put forward
the condition to revoke every politically motivated sentence, release and rehabilitate the
convicted politicians and journalists, to conduct truly democratic reforms. At my recent
meeting with the leaders of opposition parties I answered their questions on the talks I
What is your forecast for the next several years? When and how
Nazarbayev will resign? Who will be his successor?
- Nazarbayev will not have a successor. Any new leader will be building
his policy based on criticism of his predecessor and criminal prosecution of his henchmen.
Nazarbayev is quite aware of this, and will not step down voluntarily. The Azeri pattern
is a peculiar one as the succession was accomplished almost from the dead. Heidar Aliev
had nothing to fear anymore. Yanukovich's experience teaches us in what manner a potential
successor may behave towards his benefactor. Anyone who will be pledging allegiance to
Nazarbayev will face public discontent and seek to put the blame on to Nazarbayev. The
change of the political system is inevitable in Kazakhstan. “The managed democracy”
has achieved the bottom in its fall.
It's not clear yet whether the revolution will take place in the
Republic Square or in the Nazarbayev’s residence in Astana. I don’t believe in the
possibility for today’s government to ensure a smooth reform. Unfortunately, there will
be large-scale falsification and outrage, the attempts will be made to cling to power for
another decade, to silence the media and crack down on opposition members. In response,
the opposition would bring 100,000 people into the streets.
The regime won't survive, which is obvious. The army will not turn its
arms against the people. In such cases, secret services are very cautious. Kiev and
Tbilisi experiences prove this. And the Kazakhs have got the wealth of experience of mass
discontent. The former regime would only have to hope for the nation’s wisdom and big
The opposition parties should be prepared for such turn of events. We
need to urgently unite our forces, to nominate our single presidential candidate, to
develop a general program for immediate reform. We, leaders of democratic forces, should
speak today not of a forecast but a plan of developments. And not for years to come but
for months and even weeks.
“Respublika”, December 24, 2004